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Taliban announce talks with US in Islamabad

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Kabul: The Taliban said that its negotiators would meet US envoys for talks this month in Islamabad, and also sit down with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to discuss Afghanistan.

The announcement, not immediately confirmed by Washington or Islamabad, comes as America’s chief negotiator tours the globe shoring up support for a peace process to end its longest war.

Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, held extensive talks with the militants last month in Qatar, where the Taliban have an office. More talks are slated for later in February.

 

But a Taliban statement issued Wednesday said separate meetings would be held first on February 18 in Islamabad “by the formal invitation of the government of Pakistan”.

Talks in Doha would follow a week later on February 25, the statement said.

Khalilzad is heading a large delegation on a tour of Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan to boost the peace process and bring all Afghan parties to the table.

He has expressed cautious hope for a deal before Afghan presidential elections slated for July, but says the Taliban must come to the table with the Kabul government, which the insurgents consider a US puppet.

President Ashraf Ghani — who has expressed frustration at being sidelined from recent talks — flew to Munich on Wednesday to attend an international security conference, his office said.

The Taliban also announced a meeting with Prime Minister Khan in Islamabad for “comprehensive discussions” about bilateral affairs with Afghanistan.

News reports in Pakistan last month had suggested Islamabad was open to hosting the next round of talks with the insurgents.

In January, as he travelled the region building support for the peace process, Khalilzad met Khan in Pakistan — one of just three countries that recognised the Taliban regime before their ousting by US-led forces in 2001. Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in December that President Donald Trump, who is pushing to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan, wrote to Khan seeking Islamabad’s support for peace efforts.

Ties between Washington and Islamabad have soured recently.

US officials have repeatedly accusing Pakistan of turning a blind eye to, or even collaborating with, the Afghan Taliban, which launch attacks in
Afghanistan from alleged havens along the border between the two countries.

The White House believes that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and other military bodies have long helped fund and arm the Taliban, and believe a Pakistani crackdown on the militants could be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the war.

Pakistan has long denied the claims, saying thousands of its citizens have been killed in its long struggle with militancy.


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International

Two States only just solution for Israel-Palestine conflict: UN chief

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United Nations: A “peaceful and just solution” to the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict can only be achieved through creation of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, asserting that there is no plan B.

In his address to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1975, Guterres said on Friday that “based on relevant UN resolutions, long-held principles, previous agreements and international law”, Jerusalem should be the capital of both States.

“Unfortunately, over this past year, the situation has not moved in that direction”, he rued, pointing to protests that began along the border fence with Gaza last year that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded by Israeli security forces.

 

He also cited “security incidents and provocations by Hamas and other militants in Gaza”, including the launching of rockets and incendiary kites that dangerously escalated the situation.

“Thanks to the UN and Egyptian mediation efforts, a major escalation was avoided”, he said, appealing to Hamas authorities in Gaza to “prevent provocations”.

The UN chief said under International Humanitarian Law Israel too has a responsibility to exercise “maximum restraint”, except as a last resort.

Guterres said he regretted Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, saying “I hope an agreement can be found by the parties to preserve this long-standing and valuable arrangement”.

“Palestinians have endured more than a half-century of occupation and denial of their legitimate right to self-determination” with both sides continuously suffering from “deadly cycles of violence”, the Secretary-General said.

He indicated that leaders bore the responsibility to reverse this negative trajectory and pave the way toward peace, stability and reconciliation.

Guterres praised the Committee for keeping the focus on the ultimate objective of a “peaceful solution with two States coexisting in peace and security” as the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

“As I have said repeatedly, there is no Plan B,” Guterres said.

He underscored that the UN firmly supports Palestinian reconciliation and “the return of the legitimate Palestinian Government to Gaza” as “an integral part of a future Palestinian State”.

Noting that the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza must be immediately addressed, he detailed that some two million Palestinians remained mired in increasing poverty and unemployment, with limited access to adequate health, education, water and electricity, leaving young people with “little prospect of a better future”.

“I urge Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of people and goods, which also hamper the efforts of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, without naturally jeopardising legitimate security concerns,” Guterres said.

Lauding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for its “critical work” in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and across the region, he called on the international community to “significantly” increase efforts to revitalise Gaza’s economy.

Touching upon the risk of further unrest in the West Bank, the UN chief flagged that Israeli construction and settlement plans have expanded, including in East Jerusalem.

“Settlements are illegal under international law”, he asserted.

“They deepen the sense of mistrust and undermine the two-State solution”.

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Five killed in US industrial park shooting

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Washington: Five persons have been killed and several others injured after a gunman opened fire at an industrial park in the US state of Illinois, police said.

The gunman was also killed, a police spokesman said. He added that five police officers also sustained injuries after being hit by gunfire.

The attack took place in Aurora, a suburb about 65 km from Chicago, the BBC reported.

 

It comes a day after the first anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead.

The shooting is reported to have happened at Henry Pratt Company, a manufacturing firm that makes valves for large water pipes.

Police named the gunman as Gary Martin, 45, who they said was an employee at the industrial park.

Bill Donnell, an elected official in Aurora, told CNN that a number of civilians had been wounded in the shooting.

Chris Southwood of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police described the Aurora officers who attended and were shot at as “courageous”.

“(These) officers and their colleagues did not hesitate to literally put their lives on the line today to stop further bloodshed,” Southwood said in a statement.

An employee at nearby Capitol Printing told ABC7 they had hid in a closet when the shooting began.

Witness John Probst, who works at the plant, told ABC7 that he saw the attacker, whom he recognised as a colleague.

He said the man was carrying a handgun equipped with a laser sight, but this has yet to be confirmed by officials.

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth said: “This is a scary, sad day for all Illinoisans and Americans.”

US President Donald Trump has been briefed on the incident, according to White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s first visit to Pak delayed

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Islamabad: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s arrival in Pakistan on his first official visit to the country has been delayed by a day for “unknown reasons”. He was scheduled to reach Islamabad on Saturday but due to a slight change, he will arrive on Sunday, according to the Foreign Office.

However, the programmes of his stay in Pakistan will remain unchanged, it said. Prince Mohammad, who is also the deputy prime minister and minister of defence, will be conferred with Nishan-e-Pakistan – the highest civilian award — during his visit to the country, the Express Tribune reported.

A top official said that the arrival has been delayed by a day for “unknown reasons”. Preparations have been made to give an “unprecedented warm welcome” to the Saudi Prince who will be received personally by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members at the Nur Khan Airbase, the report said.

 

Abdul Razzak Dawood, Advisor to prime minister on trade, said investment deals worth USD 10-15 billion dollars would be signed during the trip. On the top of the list is an agreement to set up an oil refinery in Pakistan. Elaborate security arrangements have been planned during the visit of the powerful heir to the Saudi throne.

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